SeaTac moves ahead with fire department consolidation with Kent

SeaTac lawmakers gave approval Dec. 11 to going ahead with plans to consolidate the city’s fire department with the Kent Fire District Authority.

The consolidation would be similar to the city’s contracting with the King County Sheriff’s Office for police services, according to fire chief Jim Schneider.

Schneider said he could come back to the City Council with a consolidation plan in May. In September, council members could start reviewing the process for an Interlocal agreement between SeaTac and Kent.

In presenting a white paper on consolidation, Schneider cited the cost savings to SeaTac in contracting with a larger fire department.

SeaTac already shares a fire chief and a fire marshal with Kent. Schneider heads both departments.

The city also has been part of a larger training consortium with Kent and Kent provides public education programs.

Other possible advantages outlined by Schneider include lower insurance rates, lower supply costs and elimination of duplicate services.

A larger department could also help with recruiting. Firefighters would have more chances for promotions in a larger department, Schneider noted. Collective bargaining could also been done jointly.

Schneider added the consolidated departments would also have more opportunities to win grants.

The only disadvantage Schneider cited is that SeaTac would lose governing ability over its fire department. SeaTac firefighters would become employees of the regional fire authority governed by a board.

Schneider also emphasized that no SeaTac firefighters would lose their job in the consolidation.

The consolidation means SeaTac could “sustain (fire) services at lower costs,” Schneider summarized

City Manager Todd Cutts said his staff concurred with Schneider’s recommendation.

“Costs will be a big deal at the end of the day,” Cutts said.

Schneider noted that the Des Moines Fire Department merged with Federal Way into South King Fire and Rescue.

Burien is also discussing merging with the North Highline Fire Department, Schneider added. Mike Marrs is chief of both departments.

SeaTac will have to consolidate through an Interlocal agreement instead of a merger because of a legal glitch.

Under state law, the Port of Seattle, which operates Sea-Tac Airport, cannot be levied a “fire benefit charge” on its property. The airport makes up a large portion of the city of SeaTac.

To pay for services, fire departments normally assess homeowners and property owners a fire benefit charge.

The Port has its own fire department but in the case of a major incident at the airport, the city’s firefighters would also provide service.

Council members also approved on their consent agenda a one-year extension of the city’s labor agreement with firefighters.

The firefighters will receive a 2.7 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) and receive an additional $75 per month contribution into each employee’s medical expense reimbursement plan.

They will also receive a one-time payback of wages deferred in 2010 and 2011 when SeaTac faced a tight budget.

In return, the firefighters will increase their medical insurance plan contributions by 1 percent.

For 2013, the fiscal impact to the budget is estimated at $291,228 for wages and benefits.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.